See also Planning and Production Guidelines
for Corporate/Training Videos.
The Production Process
As you begin to write a script or outline your presentation, it's the perfect time to start thinking about all the elements of your production—budget, schedule, equipment, crew, and how you plan to tell your story.
The Digital Video Production Process
The major steps and stages of the digital video production process—how you put your story or message on the screen—are quite similar to those of film or analog video. The difference is that much of the process goes faster. See below for details.
A treatment is a written description of your story. There are usually no specific shots in the treatment. It is the narrative(story) if the piece is fiction. If the piece is a narrative or has a narrative structure, it will describe that structure. What is the beginning middle and end of the story? It can be a few paragraphs for a short to 10 pages or so for a feature. Events are described... We see this, we see that. It can show the backstory(background information or history) and/or motivation of the charcters. It is sometimes used to pitch projects to investors, companies, etc.
A script provides a way of refining your story and specifies essential elements of production. For fiction films it's a necessity, and even for presentations such as documentaries, a shot list or shooting plan can be an invaluable planning tool.
Storyboards are comic-book-like representations of the images in your production. They need to convey to to you and your crew a reasonable approximation of how the composition, framing, and cuts in your production will play out. They can be handdrawn, which is the typical way, or they can be done on the computer. See Storyboard Quick Software.
Working from the script, you'll list all the elements required for production: locations, cast members, props, shots, and so on. You'll also determine the number of crew members and kinds of equipment you need, based on descriptions of settings in the script, appearance of real locations you intend to use, and the extent of lighting and on-location sound you want. Check out the Sample Breakdown Sheet.
If your script follows standard format, you can use it to make a rough estimate of the number of shooting days you'll need. This works for most types of
productions, not just fiction movies, assuming you can create a reasonably accurate script. The length of time you'll need for editing and finishing your project will vary, depending on the length of your script and the degree of sophistication you expect from special effects and sound. Check out Movie Magic Scheduling Software.
Creating an accurate budget for a film is a specialized and advanced skill. As with scheduling, the sophistication you require in postproduction will affect cost, as will your expected distribution method—videotape, DVD, broadcast, Internet Webcast, or film. Check out a Sample Budget for a DV documentary.
Check out a Sample Budget for a DV film.
This step includes auditioning actors and selecting a cast. Casting a fictional feature can be so time-consuming that even low-budget producers often hire a casting director. If you're shooting a documentary or some other non-fiction project, you'll probably do preliminary interviews and briefings in this step.
Check out a Cast Info Checklist.
Check out a Cast List.
Check out a Call Sheet.
Identifying the number of crew members you'll use is often a compromise between how large your project is and how much money you have to spend. The larger the project, the more people you'll need to hire—if you can afford them. And the larger your crew, the greater your related costs for transportation and food—two areas where you can't skimp. The smaller the project, the more jobs you'll probably end up doing yourself.
LOCATION: A physical place where you plan to shoot, such as a park, an office building, or your own living room.
SETTING: In a script,a description of a location, including whether the action takes place as an exterior (outdoors) or an interior (indoors), and whether it s day or night.
Just prior to shooting, you and your key production personnel will select lighting, camera, sound, and grip equipment. If you're hiring a professional crew, many of them have their own equipment and will rent it to you at a packaged daily or weekly rate with their services.
The thrill (and terror) of capturing images and sound on tape begins here. Your schedule must be detailed enough to tell you which actors, crew, equipment, and props you'll need at specific locations on specific days. Be prepared to rebuild a collapsed house of cards if things don't go according to plan.
You or your editor will assemble individual shots to form a coherent presentation and build a story. If you didn't get all the shots you need, or if you need to reconstruct a bad soundtrack, this step will take a lot longer than you planned. In a worst case, you may need to go back to the shooting stage to gather missing material.
Sound and music.
Audio is a crucial element of the movie experience. Editors and sound technicians construct most of a soundtrack after the fact, adding music and multiple layers of sound effects to the dialogue recorded on set. Ironically, while they do this to provide realism, it's the most artificial part of moviemaking.
Effects and finish.
This is where you add titles and special effects, and correct colors so they look more natural, more film-like, or fit better with the mood you wish to convey.
You'll need to convert your finished production to the intended distribution medium, which can involve videotape mastering, DVD authoring, conversion to streaming digital format, or transfer to film.
TRANSFER: conversion of film or analog material to digital video, or vice versa.
Putting your work out into the world requires television broadcast, duplicating and shipping videotapes or DVDs, Internet distribution, or film exhibition.
What's Your Story?
Movies don't flop at the box office because of bad lighting. Television spots don't fail to sell products because the sound isn't perfect. But if you don't have a good story, or a compelling message, no amount of digital video technology will make up for it.
To start with, be sure you can state your story or message clearly and concisely. By "story" we mean the unique content of your video presentation, whether it's fact or fiction: What issue, product, message, feeling, personal expression, or fascination do you want to put across? What change do you want to inspire in the thoughts or feelings of your audience? What action do you want to motivate them to take? This is the essence of communication.
It's not just a matter of selecting an interesting subject. Veteran television writer-producer Stephen J. Cannell cautions that a good story poorly told sounds like a bad story. There are plenty of other ways to ruin a movie in production, but bad storytelling is probably the most effective.
Screenwriting is a huge subject, one we have no intention of summarizing here. There are lots of classes you can take, and plenty of books you can read. You can probably gain the same level of skill by experimenting with digital production and editing—but that kind of trial-and-error approach can be time consuming and expensive, and is probably best employed before you start a professional project.